The Gunslinger by Stephen King (The Dark Tower, Book I)

Rating: 3.5 of 5

Book One in the Dark Tower epic offers fast-paced fantasy with moderate action and few answers. Its focus, though, is on the introduction of the story’s hero, his initial quest, and his world.

Paperback cover The GunslingerThe Gunslinger by Stephen King follows Roland, the last gunslinger, on his quest across the desert of a ruined world to find the Man in Black. Along the way Roland meets Alice, a lonely but tough broad, and Jake, a frightened Earth boy, both of whom play an important role in his finding that which he seeks. Ultimately, Roland must decide whether he’s willing to sacrifice everything (and everyone) in order to satisfy his vengeance.

Few first lines are as compelling:

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

Once I started this book, I could not put it down. The sad thing is, I’ve owned the book for over 20 years. Why did I take so long to finally pick it up and give it a read?!? When I finished, all the seedlings – the quest for revenge, the dying world, magic, fantastical beings, a prophecy, and the Tower – sprouted into my overwhelming need to know more.

Roland’s world was quite similar to our own with subtle (and not so subtle) differences. His language, at times, was confusing; a mix between “High Speech” and 70s – 80s American lingo. I wasn’t sure if that was to demonstrate Roland’s lifespan of hundreds of years, the similarities between his world and ours, or simply to make him relatable.

The novel’s structure maintained the balance between pace, forward motion, and backstory. Throughout the story, there were flashbacks to Roland’s childhood and training as a gunslinger, which illustrate who he is (or was intended to be) and hints at potential motives for his relentless search for the Man in Black. At no time did I feel like King needed to hurry up and get on with the story.

There were many unanswered questions that I’m sure King will explore, if not all-out answer, in the rest of the series. But I still felt satisfied with this book’s story and resolution. Overall I’m quite pleased with Book One and cannot wait to start Book Two in October for the Dark Tower read-a-long.

Interesting tidbit: The series was inspired by a ream of green paper, silence on a winter’s day, and the poem, “Childe Roland,” by Robert Browning. (That’s what Stephen King wrote in the “Afterword,” anyway.) The story’s evolution as well as where King intended to take readers in the Dark Tower series were also explored in the “Afterword.”

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